Publications Financial Security *Journal Article

How Would Americans Respond to Direct Cash Transfers? Results from Two Survey Experiments

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Universal basic income has gained renewed interest among policy makers and researchers in the United States. Although research indicates that unconditional cash transfers produce diverse benefits for households, public support lags in part because of predicted unemployment and frivolous spending. To understand how Americans would reorganize their lives around unconditional cash transfers, this article examines the relationship between the structure of cash-transfer programs and their usage. We leverage experiments embedded in two nationally representative surveys to assess relationships between payment frequency, payment amount, and respondents’ anticipated usage. Though the survey experiments presented widely varying scenarios to survey participants, we saw largely consistent responses. Respondents most commonly reported they would use their payments for regular expenses, paying debts and building savings. Increased payment amounts were positively associated with spending on economic mobility-oriented goals and savings and debt decisions, but increased payment frequencies were negatively associated with these goals.


Roll, S., Constantino, S. M., Hamilton, L., Miller, S., Bellisle, D., & Despard, M. (2023). How Would Americans Respond to Direct Cash Transfers? Results from Two Survey Experiments. Social Service Review, 000–000.